Our culture values excellence. For example, we strive for A’s in school, go “in search of excellence,” learn about what it takes to go from “good to great” and hope our local sports teams win “world championships.” But, do we always need excellence?
Let me share a story.
Impress the Boss
Early in my career, my manager gave me a research and writing assignment. When I submitted the paper to my manager, he asked me to “beef up” a few sections. I returned a revised paper. He told me it was “fine.” I asked if he wanted me to do more work on it. He said it was “good enough.”
I was concerned with the “good enough” response. Had I blown the assignment? Was “good enough” code for “not very good”? I decided to give it another try. I worked late into the night getting more data and revising the text. In the morning, I met with my manager and gave him my revised work. I told him I thought this draft was much better than the previous version.
I was about to learn an important life lesson. Here is how I remember the conversation:
My manager looked at me with a puzzled expression. He asked me why I had spent the time making revisions when he told me the last version was “good enough.” I told him that I didn’t want to disappoint him with weak effort and I knew I could do better. In fact, I wanted to do an excellent job.
“I see,” he said. “You didn’t believe me when I said it was ‘good enough’. I applaud your initiative and understand your desire for excellence. You need to learn that not everything warrants the extra effort to achieve marginal improvement in results. Of course, you could improve the quality of the paper with five or ten more drafts, but it would be an unproductive use of your time. Time is a scarce commodity. Some things will suffice if they are ‘good enough’. This is one of those. You need to learn when ‘good enough’ is good enough.”
Naturally, I wanted to impress my manager with a very high quality work product. What I didn’t realize was my desire to impress was greater than my manager’s expectations for my assignment. Since that experience, I make it a practice to give individuals an indication of how much time I believe a “good enough” assignment is worth.
Good, Better or Best
Many of us will interpret the expression “good enough” as low quality. For example, when shopping for a product, we are often given a choice between good, better and best. Good is usually the lowest quality and least expensive.
For those of us who strive for excellence, “good enough” is difficult for us to embrace. Yet, in some situations 20% of the effort can produce 80% of the optimal result. In this case and others, 80% of the optimal result may be good enough for what is needed.
Advice for Perfectionists
Those of you who are “perfectionists” will think that my manager might have had low-quality standards. He didn’t. He knew when and where extra effort was warranted to achieve an excellent result. Perfectionists believe that anything less than optimal is always low quality. But, think about it. We must make judgments on how we use our time. Few of us have the abundance of time to perfect all that we do. There are times when “good enough” is good enough.
Pushing the Edge of Your Thinking